By Coco Hill and Ariella Moses
On September 20, 2019, passionate students, inspired parents, and dedicated teachers all took to the streets to make a statement and support their brave counterparts. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish and now universally-recognized climate change activist reaching just sixteen years old had sailed all the way from Plymouth, England, to New York City to further her dedication towards the fight against climate injustice in legislation. Over three million people showed support.
At 12:00 pm, students from all five boroughs of New York City gathered in Foley Square to start an impactful day. After speeches and performances from a few notable activists, including Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of New York, students, parents, and teachers raised their signs and ventured to city hall park awaiting performances from popular musicians Jayden and Willow Smith.
Despite the high turnout of eager students and teachers, some students chose not to miss the school day. Many students across the country decided that their schoolwork seemed more important than a walkout which they didn’t find effective. A senior at Beacon who chose to remain in school argued that the walkout would not make a difference with the support of the school because “the whole point of a walkout is that you’re doing it against the will of your administrators.” The administration at Beacon was in full support of the walkout, centering the first half of the school day around the issue of climate change and relieving students of absences on their official transcripts. Many students who opted not to attend the march have the same belief. They believe that at schools like Beacon remove the significance of the walkout. Not only did these students find the walkout ineffective due to the administrative input, but the support from government officials who the walkout was intended to affect as well. Support is not influential when action isn’t being taken to help. The goal of a walkout is to leave school for a cause which cannot afford to be ignored, despite the consequences it could entail. By having permission, this goal is diminished.
Not only were certain students who walked out put off by the march, but those who attended were discomforted by what took place. Students reported that the presence of pop music performances overshadowed the overarching goal of the march. While chanting “climate change is not a lie, do not let our planet die”, desperate students’ voices were drowned out by the Smith siblings performing their latest hits to a crowd too excited by their presence to maintain their strong spirits.
However, even if the walkout does not resemble a traditional one, it is still a protest. The voices of the youth can be heard in a mass fashion. Additionally, the idea of a walkout motivates more students to attend. Students who would not otherwise attend a protest feel more of an incentive to attend when they know their peers will be there. The common fear that they will have to act alone is no longer. Protest in any shape or form is effective in change, and could not be possible without the contribution of the youth, whether they act against the will of their administration or not.
While a sense of objection towards the walkout was present, there were many factors that the Beacon School administration worked on in order to morph make students more compelled to participate for the right reasons. Often times, it has been said that the administration feels as though it is challenging for them to remain assured that students are walking out because they genuinely care, not simply to join the bandwagon or project themselves a specific way. Noting this, the administration actively implemented workshops centered around climate change in place of typical school for the day of the scheduled walkout.
When interviewed about these informative workshops, an eleventh grade student who prefers to remain anonymous stated “I think that these workshops were a step in the right direction… the way things are looking now, climate change is unavoidable and impending… therefore we should be exposed to knowledge and workshops regarding it as that.” The attitude that he expresses seems to wholistically encapsulate a general theme of Beacon students reactions to this new concept.
In contrast, when prompted with the question of how impactful they felt partaking in the march, an eleventh grade Brooklyn Tech student stated, “I don’t really know… I took part in this march because I wanted to feel like I was impacting something that I know impacts me.. But sometimes in situations like this I just feel like there is a present high energy attitude that only peaks in the moment, you know… it doesn’t seem to carry out beyond the march itself.”
These opinions raise an interesting question: Being that the protest was tailored to represent the students protesting, would it have been more effective if the events were geared towards the politicians and lawmakers on the receiving end?